Training Wheels: Designing Traffic Playscapes into Seattle’s Safe Routes to School Program
Panganiban, Justin Matibag
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Safe Routes to School (SRTS) is the nation’s leading program for creating safe environments for children to walk and bike to school. Across federal, state, and local levels, the program focuses on the “6 E’s” (education, enforcement, encouragement, engineering, evaluation, and equity) as a multi-pronged framework to guide strategies within neighborhoods. Engineering values are expressed spatially through traffic safety infrastructure like bicycle lanes, sidewalks, and traffic signals. Meanwhile, the other five values are predominantly non-spatial and expressed through campaigns, workshops, and community events. What emerges from SRTS programs are comprehensive packages of infrastructure and programmatic strategies that vary for each participating school based on funding and need. While SRTS initiatives address both infrastructural and behavioral challenges to safer walking and biking, these efforts are imbalanced. A larger percentage of funding is devoted to engineering projects that provide improved traffic safety infrastructure, while the quality of applications for funding non-spatial projects has declined. Major engineering improvements primarily take place on streets while other types of public and private neighborhood lands could also contribute to traffic safety. Because all “6 E’s” are critical to the program’s mission, this thesis proposes an evolution of the SRTS framework to redistribute program values more equally in future efforts. Infrastructure projects can move beyond engineering safer streets, and place greater value toward education, encouragement, enforcement, evaluation, and equity being represented within the design process. This thesis introduces traffic playscapes as a design strategy that supports the integration of values, approaches, and strategies within Seattle’s SRTS program. While these landscapes have not yet been implemented through SRTS, they appear in numerous cities around the world. Traffic playscapes are landscapes where children playfully engage with simulated road conditions to promote walking, biking, and safe commuting behaviors. Separated from city streets, they are designed to simulate characteristics of the local transportation network. By including newly implemented SRTS infrastructure and programming in their design, traffic playscapes help students build familiarity and reinforce safe commuting practices instilled through SRTS. This thesis provides a program-wide methodology for designing and implementing traffic playscapes through SRTS. A site design concept is prototyped at South Shore K-8, a school in Seattle’s Rainier Valley that completed a SRTS program in 2013-2015. The prototype utilizes a design approach that translates neighborhood characteristics and SRTS efforts into integrated design elements that reflect the commuting environment and youth needs.
- Urban planning